My first interaction with the Song of Solomon happened when I was an eight-year-old boy. I remember sitting up in the balcony of church, very bored with the sermon. I decided to flip around in my copy of The New Adventure Bible (any other recovering Baptists have this?) and see if I couldn’t find something more interesting there. There is always something bloody and interesting in the Old Testament. I can remember flipping to this verse that set me giggling: “Your breasts are like two fawns, like the twin fawns of a gazelle.” (7:3, NIV) Dear Sweet Baby Jesus, the Bible is talking about breasts! Yes, breasts. I assure you, this eight-year-old most emphatically did not listen to the rest of the sermon. Even though the eight-year-old-me did not grasp the poetry, I recognized this book as being very naughty.
And it might seem as if the Church wants you to consider it to be very naughty, too, because we never read it. For example, it only appears in The Revised Common Lectionary once in the three-year cycle as an Old Testament option. And, there, it is only as five verses from the second chapter. The other time it might be read is at a wedding but it appears at the nuptials as a Franken-reading: three verses of the second chapter with two from chapter eight tacked on at the end. When Year B rolled around and it was the Old Testament reading at my own parish, I remember lots of giggling, pursed lips and sideways glances.
I won’t deny that Song of Solomon is a weird little book — I’m not necessarily writing that you shouldn’t have wide eyes while reading it. It does have some embarrassingly frank parts. But, unfortunately, this is the only interaction that most of us have with The Song of Solomon: we flip to it every once in awhile and we turn away blushing. We close our Bibles, writing it off with our poor and cursory glances as some kind of ancient, erotic love poetry that has little relevance to our lives. And we giggle about it.
I will confess that I find our communal reaction to Song of Solomon a bit odd. Our culture is completely sexually saturated that we are completely at home with sex. Today, discussions of it border from the frank to the crass, never skirting around the issue! Yet, when breasts are compared to gazelles or when the lover passionately declares right at the very beginning, Kiss me! Kiss me with your mouth! we are given over to the church giggles. Yet, we hear and say far more crass things five minutes before we read those verses.
I suspect some of this is because we’re all haunted by a Gnosticism of the deeply Calvinistic kind that thoroughly pervades most of American Christianity. If we really consider it, we prefer our god to be of the fleshless kind because we believe in a spiritual world and secular world and never the twain shall meet! And for us, what exemplifies the secular world the most is sex. Even the most profound act of lovemaking – which is what the Song of Solomon is referring to – is still relegated to the secular world. We do not think that God moves in this secular world; we wrongly believe that it is devoid of his presence. We think the material world and sex as inherently sinful
Yet, Christian Tradition teaches us about the incarnation: that Jesus Christ was both fully God and fully man. In him, with him and through him we are brought into union with God. As the prophet Habakkuk put it, “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14) In Christ, the spiritual and the secular meet. Indeed, they have kissed each other. (Ps. 85:10) What was lost and forgotten, what was base and evil is taken up through the Holy Spirit, sanctified and finds a new meaning. The material world is not inherently sinful.
We have only to consider the Eucharist to see this great oneing between between the material and the spiritual. For, what could be more common and base than bread and wine? Yet, these are the very vessels through which Christ instituted the miracle of the Eucharist. They are taken up, transformed and returned to us in this miraculous mystery as the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. The physical world is not cast off or forgotten by God like some kind of dirty, sinful socks but is lifted up and transformed. God loves the world so much that He didn’t destroy it but is recreating it through the Son. The material world is not inherently sinful!
In much the same way, I read the Song of Solomon through the lens of Christ; I read it through the lens of the Eucharist. If you take a second glance, looking beyond its embarrassingly frank text you might see Christ, oneing us with God. You might begin to see it as an act of worship, much like the Eucharist. Yet, it is about sex. But, it is about so much more than that: it is an allegorical act of worship.
So, with all this in mind, I want to announce that I’m beginning a series of posts covering the vast majority of the Song of Solomon, taking it several verses at a time, as it is a relatively short book. This will not be academic, indeed, it will be very much like lectio divina; each post will be devotional in intent and execution. Yes, my approach will be almost entirely spiritual to the most fleshly of books. Frankly, I don’t care about original authorial intent and because of that many of you might be offended that I am Christianizing this Jewish text. Don’t worry, I’m not — I’m just reading it like a Christian. Like Christians have done for centuries.
Would you be interested in taking this journey with me? If you’d rather sit and read it in your copy of The New Adventure Bible, completely ignoring what I say, that’s okay, too. We’ll start with verses 2-4 of the first chapter. Please know that it is completely okay to giggle.
You’re welcome to read my previous thoughts on the Song of Solomon here.